Don’t look for Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham to become a soap opera fan just because he is leaving the mayor’s office. County employees and friends gathered for a goodbye reception in his honor all agreed the mayor will find work to keep him busy.
“Jerry is a worker and will find himself busy,” said Dave Bennett, former assistant county mayor who took a position with Cherokee Millwright eight months ago. “I don’t think we will find him becoming a ‘Days of Our Lives’ fan. He has a farmer’s mentality.”
Bennett said he has learned a little something about leaving public service in the last eight months. “Obviously, my time working with Jerry was terrific, but I found out there is life after public service, and it is pretty good.”
Bennett said Cunningham’s family comes first. “He will have a lot of time to spend with his grandkids. They mean so much to him,” Bennett said.
Blount County Commission Chair Steve Samples led the reception that drew more than 100 people to a fourth floor conference room at the Blount County Courthouse. “We’re together to tell you how much we appreciate everything you have done,” Samples said. “I want to say thank you, my friend. We’re going to miss you.”
County commissioner Peggy Lambert said working with Jerry has been one of the most memorable experiences of her life because of his sense of humor and attitude. “I know the kind of man he is,” she said. “He has honor and integrity.”
Amy Cowden worked as Cunningham’s assistant at the Kizer and Black law firm and followed him to the courthouse. She characterized Cunningham as a father-figure to many. “I came to work for Jerry at 19, and it has been an honor to work with him for all these years,” she said.
Pat James, an executive assistant in the mayor’s office and the county finance department, said seeing Cunningham leave was bittersweet. “We are going to miss him. I’m excited for what is ahead for him and Janis. He has been good to work with but we’re looking forward to working with the new administration,” she said. “We’re sad but excited.”
Judge Hugh E. Delozier shared how he and the mayor went through high school and law school together and practiced law together for years. “You’ve done a wonderful job, and there is life after public office…I have a tee time,” he said, as those in the room laughed.
Blount County Health Department director Micky Roberts thanked Cunningham for being a good leader. “Leaders don’t just do what is popular,” he said. “You’ve taken a stand for the health of the people of Blount County.”
Susan Brown, a volunteer with the Blount County History Museum, said most folks in the county appreciate Cunningham’s service to the community. “You have done a wonderful job representing Blount County,” she said.
Blount County Republican Party chair Susan Mills said Cunningham has given so much to the people throughout the years. “He’s been a good mayor, and he has been good for the county,” she said.
After comments from many in the two rooms, Cunningham said he was a little overwhelmed, but thanked those who came. The mayor said he is weighing his options regarding a number of opportunities. “I had a delegation come and ask me to run for an office in two years, but I’m just not interested right now,” he said.
The outgoing mayor and former U.S. Attorney for East Tennessee lost a spirited campaign in the Republican primary in May to former Maryville Fire Chief Ed Mitchell. “It doesn’t matter if you were born here or moved here, we all love Blount County,” Cunningham told colleagues and friends. “I hope we all realize and appreciate what a crown jewel we have in Blount County and what a privilege it is to serve and live in Blount County.”
Mitchell takes office following a swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday, Sept. 1.